Sports Business

So You Want to Work In Sports?

My name is Zachary Lipari, and this is my first post on

So you want to work in sports?  You’ve put in the days, the months, and the years into getting yourself ready to be a productive member of the sports industry.  You have recently graduated college, maybe even with an industry specific degree in sports management.  In some cases, you even went out and got yourself a fancy post graduate degree and now you are ready to take on the challenge of working in the sports industry.  If this sounds like you and you are currently gainfully employed in the same sports industry you set out to conquer during these ever important early years of your professional career, then consider yourself a lucky member of the minority.  The majority, on the other hand, is the ever expanding group of young sports industry prospects who have a lot to offer, but no one willing to take a chance on them.  I am a part of this majority, and in this case, it is definitely better not to be running with the crowd.

I am 24 years of age, have a bachelor’s degree in sports management, and have held 3 different internship positions since graduating in 2007.  I have interned for a sports and entertainment public relations firm, an up-start NFL agent, and most recently a sports event hospitality company. I believe internships are a great way to learn more about the industry you want to be in, but like anything else, they have their pros and cons.  An obvious pro is that you can learn and gain experience in the industry you have wanted so much to be a part of.  This isn’t as fool proof as one may like; however, since you will find companies who only value their interns as a means to input data and nothing else.  On the other hand, you also may be lucky and work for a company who splits up the boring, tedious work that you are most definitely supposed to be doing at this stage of your career with actual company matters that require creative thoughts and ideas to stimulate your mind and give you the real experience you can use down the line. I have had the opportunity to intern in both types of settings and have a real appreciation for companies who value their internship programs.  But what if you are in the type of situation where your voice isn’t being heard…ever?  Well, that is where you have to make your own luck and figure out a way to do what is necessary to be noticed.

My personal motto for all work situations is to treat everyday like it is an interview. I learned this from the NFL agent I interned with for over a year and I try and do my best to keep that kind of enthusiasm and commitment day in and day out no matter how unglamorous the tedious work for the day might be.  The one thing that every internship has in common is that it is a foot in the door.  Getting that foot in the door is hard enough and you want to make the most out of it because things could suddenly open up, and if you have made yourself an indispensable part of the office and have shown great effort, then you could be in line for a promotion and subsequently a place in the sports industry. An internship also provides you with experience for your resume and can be a great way to make connections and grow your network.

Your network might be your most important asset in the sports industry. I recently spoke with someone who has the job I want at the company I would like to work for, in order to try and gain some perspective and advice.  What I learned from him is that connections trump all. He had worked in the industry for a few years, graduated high in his class and obtained his MBA, but was convinced all of that was peanuts compared to connections he had made, one of which was with his boss that led to him getting his job.  When this person said, “I’m convinced my boss doesn’t ever look at resumes” I rethought my game plan and refocused it on networking and selling myself as a person, because there are countless people out there, some of you included, with more impressive resumes than me and I need to separate myself from the gathering herd of applicants.  You should be doing the same thing.  Sell yourself, get creative and come up with your own game plan to follow.

Don’t get discouraged.  Get hungry.  If this is something you want and you are passionate about it and can afford to maybe work a night job for a few years so you can spend your days working for free towards your goal, then do it.  I personally need to be doing something I’m passionate about to be effective, and I love sports.  I’ve been told to maybe work a job in a different industry and figure it out later, but the time is always now to do what you love and the road isn’t always an easy one.  It is easy to get down on yourself if you, like me, have had a little trouble climbing the corporate ladder, but know that you’re not alone.  In the mean time, keep yourself sharp and try to make yourself stand out, but try not to take any jobs from me!

By Zachary Lipari

President of East Coast MMA.

10 replies on “So You Want to Work In Sports?”

Zachary, you sound like someone who will go a long way in this business. I like your approach to getting your foot in the door. One caveat may be in order, however. Once you actually are allowed in the door, obtaining actual results in whatever position you hold are equally as important as continuing to network and make connections. While there are some people who bounce from job to job while being mediocre performers solely on the basis of their connections, those who can actually deliver results will rise to the top.

You barely mentioned this, but I think its one of the most important aspects of breaking into the field. Sell yourself. Some of the best advice that I ever received came in two parts. First, You can’t sell any player without selling yourself first. Second, you have to provide something that no other person provides, something that employers can’t live without.

The truth is, even if you have the connections but don’t bring anything to the table, then you really aren’t very valuable and your chances of sticking around with pay are slim. This applies to the working world in general but even more so to the sports industry. You have to offer something that makes you indispensable to a firm or even partnership with an agent.

Another truth is, that hard work is not enough these days. Yes, hard work is extremely important. It requires great diligence and perseverance in the face of great adversity, because as stated, the odds are against you. However, hard work is no longer enough. You may kill yourself working hard to gain connections and networking and finally put yourself in a great position, only to see it fall short when a quick tenure.

The reality is that if you don’t or didn’t play collegiate athletics or have a background professionally in a sport(surfing, skating, snowboarding etc), then you are at a disadvantage. This is not to say that its impossible to break into the industry if you don’t, but you are at a disadvantage. Aside from the obvious connections made by being an athlete at that next level, someone without that experience lacks a certain understanding and knowledge level of the sport that they are trying to get into. If you have never played, how do you really know what its like to have someone else recruit you and the assorted pressures that follow? How do you really know what sort of subtle nuances take place in the coaching offices and film rooms that dictate whether or not you are going to have a chance to play or make an impact?

Without this background, you are going to see the sport, game, and field from a completely different perspective than those already immersed in it. If you have never played, I feel pretty confident that you will never see or understand the game on that same level that players and coaches do.

This is not such a bad thing though. The ability to bring a different dimension to the sport or field may be exactly what breaks you into the field. The point is, that you HAVE to bring that other dimension. Maybe you didn’t play college athletics, but you have a killer understanding of intellectual property rights or patents. Maybe that’s not a direct path towards being an agent, but you can bet its going to be a major asset to a franchise, which will then set you up along that path. Or perhaps you know how to sell and market things better than anyone you have ever met?

As Zach stated above, “be creative”, think outside the box, try something new and different because what’s the worst that could happen? If you already aren’t in the industry, trying something completely new and different or offering something new and different can’t hurt you since you only have access to gain.

So Sell Yourself and Bring Something to the Table!


It is a must to have an attitude like yours for success in anything you do. Working for a small time international basketball agent, an important thing I learned about the business of sports agenting is that it is not as glamorous a life as most people make it out to be. Those people are usually the ones who don’t know anything about the business, or are people like scott boras and drew rosenhaus, who have an overwhelming deal of clout. From what my boss told me he pampers his clients a lot, and it seems like he doesn’t get equally compensated for the long hours he puts in for his clients. After that he told me that most agents are like him, they represent all the people that you have never heard of. As in any other business, the top agents are the ones that make the money that kids like you and I dream of making, and all the others are hustling their asses off just to live comfortably. I guess my main point and what I want to convey to all the young aspiring agents out there is that the business is not as glamorous as you probably think it is, and if you are lucky enough to become a practicing agent, you would be even luckier to get one BIG MONEY client in your entire working career as an agent unless that client is your boy or a relative.

Excellent article Zachary, I can definitely identify with everything you’ve discussed. Similarly, I would absolutely love to opportunity to work within this amazing industry. Unfortunately, being from Canada has resulted in virtually little to no opportunities thus far to even secure an internship. Are my failed efforts so far to simply get a foot discouraging? YES, sometimes but I REFUSE to give up. I am 100% committed to learning this business and becoming a viable part of this industry despite the obstacles I will likely encounter in the early part of my career. I really would like to thank you for taking the time to write this article as it has inspired me to continue to knock on doors and more importantly network.

The bottom line is that you are extremely passionate about what you do. At the end of the day that is all that matters. Your article is motivating and inspiring. I wish you best of luck.

i love your article, work for free in the day, work night jobs, and you write! wonderful, i just pray my son enthusiasm will remain similar to yours, you sound like my son.

Good morning Zachary. My initial upbringing has been sports orientated involvement. I am an ex professional ballplayer, a slight cup of coffee at the big time, and now have been made businessman. You’re so correct in your statement that contacts and relationships are where it’s at. I just sold my business and am now looking to get back into sports. I would like to speak with you about some of my thoughts and may be together we can formulate some sort of program.

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